Canadians using the Access to Information Act system frequently find that it is simply does not work as the legislation prescribes, with most facing long delays and widespread redactions. Canada’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard is trying to do something to fix that. She has been calling for legislative reforms, more resources, and leadership within government departments to prioritize providing information instead of hiding it. Commissioner Maynard joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss the current system, how exceptions are often used too aggressively to limit public access, and what can be done to fix these problems.
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 143: Canada’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard on Why Government Needs a Culture of Providing Information Instead of Hiding It
The Rest of the Online Harms Consultation Story: Canadian Heritage Forced to Release Hundreds of Public Submissions Under Access to Information Law
For months, the results of the government’s online harms consultation was shrouded in secrecy as the Canadian Heritage refused to disclose the hundreds of submissions it received. I launched a page that featured publicly available submissions (links reposted below), including 25 submissions from organizations and companies as well as six individual expert submissions. I later followed up with two posts that provided further details on the publicly available submissions (here and here). Earlier this year, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez released a “what we heard” report that again blocked making the actual submissions public, but provided a summary that left little doubt that the government’s plans were widely criticized and required a policy reset.
In the meantime, I filed an Access to Information Act request to compel disclosure by law of the consultation submissions. It took many months, but this week the department released the results. While some submissions may be excluded – third parties can object on certain grounds – I have obtained hundreds of additional submissions in a 1,162 page file. These can be obtained directly from Canadian Heritage by launching an informal access request at no cost with the department. The file to request is A-2021-00174 (or click here for the full file for the moment).
Treasury Board President Tony Clement unveiled the latest version of his Open Government Action Plan last month, continuing a process that has seen some important initiatives to make government data such as statistical information and mapping data publicly available in open formats free from restrictive licenses.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes there is much to like about Canada’s open government efforts, which have centred on three pillars: open data, open information, and open dialogue. Given the promise of “greater transparency and accountability, increased citizen engagement, and driving innovation and economic opportunity”, few would criticize the aspirational goals of Canada’s open government efforts. Yet scratch the below the surface of new open data sets and public consultations and it becomes apparent that there is much that open government hides.
Wesley Wark on the "badly broken" state of access to information in Canada.
Bloc MP Carole Lavalee has introduced a private members bill that would require every government institution to maintain a public register of every record disclosed in response to an Access to Information Act request.